Convergent Thoughts: Writer’s Block

Convergent Lines by Rosmary

For the past three hours, I have been on an Amtrak train headed out to St.Louis to spend some needed and well deserved time with family. Also, for the past three hours I have been writing a post for EdReach that keeps morphing, changing, and weaving back and forth between two similar, but distinctly separate topics. For someone who works to write in a focused manner it is frustrating to say the least. For the sake of staying on topic with this post, I’ll only share the two topics that have been battling in my brain for my attention:

  • What does iCloud mean for students: Potential
  • Is simultaneous collaboration all it’s cracked up to be…

Both topics rightfully deserve a post, the frustration is that they both wanted to be THIS post… Just when I begin to fall into a groove on a single topic, suddenly a random, errant, or stray word begins to unravel a sentence. Soon, I find myself re-writing a paragraph, ostensibly to clean up some wording or make a point more concisely, but then I find that the entire topic of the paragraph has now changed. Pretty soon, I am re-working the other paragraphs around this newly formed idea and before I know it I found myself completely changing the title of the post. Now, I have had this happen in the past, but there has been a difference. Those times, the changes have always produced a stronger message, a better conclusion, or even just better questions for pondering. Today, however…

Like many, I view writing as an iterative process. Rough ideas, concepts, thoughts, imaginings, have a beginning and through the process of writing they get honed to a point which then gets released into the world. For me writing is all about reading. The more you read, the easier it is to write, the more you review and revise, the easier it is to write, the more you write, the more you want to read. Occasionally, writing can be a “chore”, but most often it is a joy. It helps clear up the clutter in my mind by sweeping it into nice topics, connecting similar and occasionally what might look like disparate pieces of information. Today, however…

Have your students experienced this while you are trying to keep them focused on a single topic? Have you experienced what can only be called writer’s block because of TOO MANY convergent ideas flowing through your mind? How have you guided your students through this troubling block?

Image Credit: “Convergent” by Rosmary via Flickr CC

Internet For The Rest of Us

Only Satellite Internet HereYesterday, I took a drive out to my new home in Lanark, IL. It is an area where there are many unpaved roads, roads that travel at odd angles, and friendly people who wave as they pass each other on the drive. I really love everything about the new area I am moving.

Well, almost everything.

While getting my utilities setup, I realized that the local cable company, Mediacom, would not service my location. I am four miles from their termination point of service outside of the village of Lanark. I was scrambling to find home Internet service. DSL service was not available either.

My options turned out to be a Verizon MiFi or HughesNet Satellite Internet. The prices for these services are appalling.

A Verizon MiFi, while it has 4G capabilities, only operates in my area at 3G speeds (about 1 megabit per second (Mbps) download). And for $80 a month, I get a whole 10GB of data per month. The HughesNet Satellite solution, the Pro 200 level for ONLY $89.99/month, allows speeds up to 2Mbps down and capped at 450MB downloaded per day (I pay $10 for the extra 50MB). The “Pro” 200 level plan provides about 12GB of data per month (BUT I can download willy-nilly without caps from 1AM to 6AM everyday). However, high latency with both of these services can have an adverse affect on SSL and VPN connections that I need to perform my job.

In looking into my usage data with Comcast, my current provider who provides me 12Mbps for $65/month, I average about 50GB of data downloaded per month. I have really bought into a Web 2.0 lifestyle – Netflix, Apple TV, Pandora, Sirius/XM,, ESPN3 – not to mention my kids when they come to visit using their iPad and computer to play their online games. The idea of restricting my downloading to a fifth of the usual data downloaded is distressing considering that my job heavily involves connecting to the rest of the world.

In further researching the number of users on Satellite (reserved for those in rural areas) there are only about one million subscribers to this service either through HughesNet or their rival Wildblue. So the outcry to “light up” rural areas really is not there. However, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) did provide funds to assist and subsidize satellite service. And there is hope on the horizon with new satellites about to launch that can provide speeds more in line with DSL speeds (ViaSat | HughesNet).

My concern now has turned though to my students. Ready to launch in November, my school district is going ahead with a 500 iPad 1:1 initiative. Many of these 500 students live in an area similar to mine – rural. As educators, we talk about all these collaborative tools and technologies, but even if the student can connect to the Internet, will their service be sufficient to allow them to perform certain tasks? It is vital to consider, especially as my colleagues are congregating in Philadelphia at ISTE 2011, that in the conversation about our students, we think about all our students.

To combat the lack of true high-speed Internet access, I am moving forward with plans to build a secure hotspot in the JR/SR high school parking lot and partnering with our local businesses to provide a network of hotspots at all hours. But even if these hotspots exist, will the rural student population be able to use these services? It is a frustrating conundrum.

Using iDevices in the Classroom: A Live Event [Archived]


Update: Thanks to everyone for dropping in on this session. Our wired internet went out on us here at the conference, so we were forced to stream from the Wifi, which, you know, had like 8000 other people using it. So the archived session is a little choppy, but digestible.

EdReach will be using our new tool, to broadcast a Birds of a Feather presentation from ISTE:

Using iPads, iPod Touch, and iPhones for Learning and Teaching will begin promptly at 5pm EST. Check back here (and hope your bandwidth is good)! Scroll down to join the Vuroom. This is a Skype integrated tool, so hopefully upload speed and bandwidth will hold out. Feel free to share this out as well! Here is the description from the ISTE Program:

Bring your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone to participate in a discussion about useful applications and how to use them for learning.

iPad Users: Click here!

See you there!

Mobile Reach #7 – Home Alone from ISTE

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Home Alone.* It’s not fun, but Chad, Tammy & David step into the role of Kevin McCallister who’ve been left behind by Mom Judi & Dad Scott who are at the ISTE conference taking place in Philadelphia. We share some resources from ISTE we’ve been following virtually this week.  Also on tap are some “true” Mobile Learning resources, discussion around a new Android tablet, talk about some apps coming to the IOS platform including Skype & Facebook and sharing of apps we’ve been dabbling with.

Show Host: Chad Kafka (@chadkafka)

Co-Hosts: Tammy Lind(@TamL17), David Freeburg (@whizbang)
Off having a blast at ISTE: Scott Meech (@smeech), Judi Epcke (@jepcke)

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The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.

* Sound clip copyright Hughes Entertainment & 20th Century Fox.

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Day 3: ISTE Liveblog- Silicon Valley Finds its Way to ISTE

Monday, some of our EdReach contributors (myself included) hung around on the vendor floor, looking for innovative products and ideas that might take education forward. We found some passionate coders in, also had a great conversation with, a simple, cloud-based LMS, that integrates with Google Apps (also a startup- based out of New York)., the “Facebook of education,” is here, and another sign that the apocalypse is nearing, showed off Evernote Peak- all of this- a clear sign that Silicon Valley is finally finding its way to education. Today (Tuesday), EdReach will be hanging out in the Blogger’s Cafe around the snowball mic, and doing some ad hoc interviews. We hope you’ll share your innovations with us.

Image Credit: Sony

TechCrunch Disrupt comes to ISTE []

Could this be a sign of great things to come? Walking the vendor floor at ISTE, we’re finally starting to see cool Ed apps and tools from the TechCrunch world arrive in the Education world., a very interesting startup, who attended TechCrunch Disrupt NYC, showed off their online, interactive graphing calculator. Here’s what we saw from these talented coders.

Day 2: ISTE Liveblog from EdReach

Well, the keynote from yesterday was not quite what we expected (getting booted, and all), but the ScribbleLive blog, we’ve found is a great way to view the #ISTE11 hashtag, with some added components for sharing like webcam comments. As you can see, it’s clean and updates smoothly. It also adds images that people are posting directly into the stream. Today, we’ll be tweeting out and sharing, but, of course you’ll be adding to the experience. If you want the experience for your mobile phone, get the Scribblelive iPhone app, then watch the #ISTE11 stream here on your phone: See you on Day 2!


Day 1: ISTE Liveblog from EdReach

EdReach will  be liveblogging each day of ISTE. Today, ISTE kicks off with a keynote from Brain Rules author, Dr. John Medina. We’ll be sharing our liveblog, adding pictures, tweeting, and adding to the discussion of taking education forward. Check back on this page, for the Liveblog stream. Let’s engage, and feel free to comment!

Inside EdubloggerCon 2011 [Slideshow]

EdReach had a great time at #EdubloggerCon 2011! We met some great new educators (new to us), met the guys, Symbaloo team, and we had some in-depth discussions with the creators of some of the best education tools out there, like Wikispaces. As for the conference, numerous ideas were shared about Khan Academy, Bring Your Own Device, and the state of education in the news media. Good to see that the TechCrunch spillover ( is finally finding its way to ISTE. Being educators, we go to these events to connect with other folks who are looking to take education forward. Success!

My Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

My summer seems to be pretty busy and I am always feeling like I am doing mindless tasks.  I made a conscious effort to make sure that I was completing activities that worked the mind this summer.  The list below shows most of the activities that I am involved with during my “vacation.”

Teacher Feast- This is a week long training camp for teachers to learn technology for the classroom.  It is a great model for professional development.  I am teaching for two weeks.  Not only am I sharing my knowledge, I am always learning new ideas while I am at the Feast.

Tech Feast- Tech Feast is designed for district or school Technical Coordinators and technically-oriented business decision makers. I am co-teaching a couple of classes on technologies used within the classroom.

I need to give a big thank you to Jim Peterson and all those involved with the Feast.  I feel very lucky to be part of this group.  I greatly appreciate the support I get from the wonderful people in District 87.


SMART Certification- I will be trained in July to become a SMART Certified Notebook and Response Trainer.  This is a great opportunity to be able to learn more about SMART and have access to great resources.

My new iPad 2- I am having a great time learning this device.  I know it is not perfect, but it does a great job and fits many needs for myself and my students.  Go to to read teacher reviews of great apps for you and your students.

Zite- Is one of my favorite apps on my iPad 2.  It is basically a daily magazine that finds articles that interest me.  It connects to my Google Reader account and I also tell the app other topics I would like to read.  It is a very slick looking app and I learn something new every time I use it.

Play some games

Words With Friends HD- This is a very addictive iPad game.  I can play a scrabble-like game locally, I can play with random people, and I can hookup with friends on Facebook or Twitter.  You can have multiple games going at the same time.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PC)- I am going to finish this game soon.  If you need some action and have already played the Call of Duty series, then give this one a try.  It is a lot of fun and can be challenging, especially in multiplayer.  I play this game through Steam and it sells for $19.99.

My Classroom- I am moving from a portable classroom back into my school.  They couldn’t keep me out forever.  Although this is a difficult task, it will be nice to organize the things I need and purge the excess.  I am also going to organize my files, books, and teacher resources.  I hope this will make my classroom run a little smoother this coming year.

Update my Delicious Bookmarks- I just finished organizing my Delicious bookmarks.  I stopped using the tool because I was frustrated with how it sorted.  I am to the point where I should be able to tag my sites properly and if I need the bookmarks in a specific order, for a classroom activity, I will create a Jog the Web.  As most of you know, this is an ongoing process and battle to keep up to date.  I also created a new folder within my Chrome browser and I named it “New.”  Any new bookmarks will be placed here. Each day I will place these bookmarks in the correct area.  If I want them in Delicious I can place them at this time and then I can drop the bookmark in the correct folder within Chrome.  I love how Chrome can sync bookmarks between computers.  I know this looks like a process, but each person has to use what works.


All these activities pale in comparison to the time spent with my family.  I feel very lucky that my wife and I both teach and can spend some quality time with our children.  A balance has to be made between professional work and home.  The biggest summer lesson for teachers is to spend time with the ones you love.


EdGamer note- Gerry and I will post an EdGamer podcast next week.  Our “summer vacations” are very busy.  Look for an exciting podcast next Saturday.



Image Credit:



Three Qualities That Make Video Games Better Teachers Than Teachers

In my five part countdown about video games and education (the rest can be found here, at, I have addressed the types of gamers in your classroom and the common misconceptions about these students. This article, however, takes the focus off of the students and turns a spotlight onto the teachers. There are several qualities that make video games better teachers than teachers, and here are my top three:


Reason Number One: Ability to Assess


The speed and accuracy of computers are something the human brain can no longer match. Simply put, computers are faster, more consistent and more accurate than we are. Their ability to reason on certain projects or types of assessment may be compromised, however in our wonderful standardized testing society, government and administration is more concerned with data than the creative growth of our students (sidebar: as an art teacher, I am appalled that I just had to write that sentence). The computer systems that run video games are better, or at least faster, at storing and analyzing data as well as giving instant feedback. If you have taught professionally, you are well aware that any amount of time longer than thirty seconds after a test is taken is too long to know the score for the average student. Students want immediate feedback. This rings especially true when they can go home, play a level on a video game and be told during play if they are meeting their goals or not. This is not something we as educators can do. Imagine being able to correct a student at each step of a math problem before they went on. Not only would this be more beneficial to the students learning process, it would severely reduce the student’s frustration of doing an entire page of homework incorrectly and not finding out their work was useless until the next day. The speed and frequency of feedback can have a direct impact on student learning, and video games have a huge leg up on the human brain.


Reason Number Two: Entertainment Factor


Let’s face it: even bad video games are usually more entertaining than even your best lecture. This is not entirely your fault. As teachers, we have been given a very strict guideline of what we need to teach (i.e. whatever material is conveniently located on the most recent standardized test put out by your state). Many successful video games are not curriculum based ‘edutainment’ type games (see: Math Blaster). The most popular video games are those out in the market that greatly increase the social, spatial and cognitive skills of our students but are based around topics that are much more entertaining such as war, sports or sci-fi events. When it comes to nailing down curriculum, often times ‘edutainment’ games fall into the same boring category as our lecturing; however, ask any kid, in any school, anywhere and they will pick a boring game over your lecture. Why? The answer is most likely because games are very personal. Students have the desire to interact at their own pace and progress naturally as an individual as opposed to being roped into the group standardized learning plateaus of a classroom. Children feel more comfortable with games and enjoy the break from the monotonous, prison-like system of our compulsory school day. Even repetitive board races or mock-Jeopardy games are more exciting than listening to fifty straight minutes of someone speaking. Video games of all types essentially offer students a breath of fresh air from…well, us.




Reason Number Three: Teacher 2.0


This one is the real kicker. Video games and technology in general live or die by the sword of being able to update. Conversely, education has remained unchanged in its form since its inception as an experiment in the mid 1800’s. Why are we so rigid and unchanging? It probably has a lot to do with our fear of failure in education, which in turn, probably comes from the fact that we are dealing with the livelihood of our children. However, in technology, those who do not change and adapt, fade away. Some say the failure to change comes from a lack of funding or the fact that schools are public entities as opposed to a private sector corporation. I think all of these things have a little piece in the giant puzzle of why we in the educational system are so bad at change. Many critics blame old, stubborn teachers, and I will not try to convince you that those teachers don’t exist (I know a few). But let me reassure you that those teachers are not the majority, and they are certainly not driving the hypothetical bus of change or lack thereof. Education refuses to change primarily because we cannot find or agree upon one good way to change it. There is no master CEO of the educational world that will be able to shoulder the responsibility of changing an entire public sector beast as large as public education. Or someone bold enough to withstand a failure while trying. And, if there was, the transition could not be done during said person’s term in power. Maybe it is time to start looking around for a new way. Small, private and charter schools are seeing success in limited markets as they mimic the business model of the private sector: that is, when something doesn’t work, change and adapt. New ideas and fresh opinions are coveted at these schools as opposed to rigid guidelines and stale curriculum. Now, the real problem lies in our endgame. As educators we are stuck preparing students for what our district, state and country believes is best for them. Too often we are creating students for data purposes that are ‘ready’ for higher education at the expense of the trades. We have lost the concept of apprenticeship. We have decided what is right for students with no feedback from our “target audience”. This is what video games and technology excel at. They want to know what they are doing wrong so that, next time, they can release a better version that is more entertaining/useful/powerful. Does this sound like any school you have ever worked in? I didn’t think so. Maybe it is time for a shift in education. Maybe we need to update not only the machines that are helping educate our children, but maybe we need to update our concepts of what education is and should be.


Don’t worry, for these three reasons that video games are better teachers than teachers; there are hundreds that make you a better teacher than video games. However you have been warned: video games are continually updating quickly!


Image Credits:

Controller Image by Bulldogza and zirconicusso

Student Image by photostock

Collage by G. James 2011


Google Educast Show #21: How To Go Google At ISTE

Google Educast Logo



Show Host: Jay Blackman

Show contributors: Chad Kafka and John Sowash

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The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.

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MacReach Show #19: EduTecher Talk

Summer is the perfect time to discover some new classroom tools, and the eduTecher Backpack app is a great starting place for educators looking for website tools to enhance teaching and learning. Adam Bellow joins in this week to talk about how his EduTecher Bakpack app came to be such a great resource for educators, and shares some other great summer learning opportunities!

– EduTecher on the web and in app form: explore, share, contribute great resources!

EduBloggerCon unconference

-iste Conference (International Society for Technology in Education)


Attending ISTE At Home: Seven Tips To Enhance Your Virtual ISTE Experience!

ISTE is the mega conference of mega conferences; it is the largest EdTech conference in the world.   ISTE annually draws over 12,000 to the conference and this year there are over 135 workshops, 700 sessions, and informal learning opportunities every where you go; ISTE  2011 will be held in Philly June 26-29.  For a great ISTE overview listen to the latest EdReach show.

Personally I’ve been to ISTE twice and never been disappointed.  This year I won’t be there, instead of attending and presenting at ISTE  I will be welcoming my second son into our family, as well as moving into a new house.  Besides packing I have been doing some thinking about how I can make the most of ISTE from the comfort of my own home.

I’d like to offer seven ways for anyone to make the most of ISTE even if you cannot physically be there:

1.  Plug in to ISTE through Twitter

Search for the hash tag #iste11, save it in your TweetDeck (our other favorite Twitter app) and start enjoying a constant stream of links, knowledge, and other ISTE delights.

2.  Connect with ISTE news via Facebook.

Take time to “Like” ISTE and EdReach on Facebook, and get the freshest news from the conference on your Facebook page.

3.  View live streams of informal and formal sessions

This year ISTE is offering virtual workshops and some sessions for a small fee ($79), you can check out the options on this flyer.   In previous years ISTE offered the keynotes live streamed, via their website, to ISTE members only. My number one suggestion would be to attend the FREE unplugged sessions virtually via ISTE unplugged, check out the many options at ISTE Unplugged.  I also stay posted to my twitter stream to see if anyone in my PLN is streaming any sessions.

4. Virtually visit vendors that are in the exhibit hall

Click around the interactive map (linked above) and then Google some of the companies that interest you.  Most likely these companies may be running the same promos and new products on their websites to correspond with the ISTE traffic they receive in the exhibit hall.  Make sure you think twice before you buy,  and do your research.  Be sure to check out some of the latest product news and reviews coming out of EdReach.

You might also check out the ISTE press release page for new products coming out at ISTE.

5.  Link into the ISTE Conference Ning

The official conference Ning if free to join and allows you to access many session slides, notes, and links.  The Ning also allows you to connect with others who are either physically or virtually in attendance.

6.  Check into EduBlogger Con!

EduBlogger Con is the unofficial pre-conference of ISTE, and the “unconference” of all unconference; being held all day June 25th at ISTE.  It’s where edubloggers across the world go to connect and present prior to ISTE.   You can bet the house on the fact that great conversations, blog posts, links, and more will be flooding the blogosphere and twitter sphere.  So start tuning in early for some great stuff!  Also save the Twitter hash tag #EBC11 for the latest tweets out of Edublogger Con 11.

7.  Follow EdReach for great ISTE coverage!

If you are truly looking for some of the best ISTE coverage around you need to stay connected to EdReach.  Visit the site daily, listen to our podcasts, and follow our tweets.  The EdReach team will be on the ISTE scene!  Look for daily “Live Blog” coverage!

Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by jonas_k – Modified by Chris Atkinson

EdReach Show #26: Our ISTE Preview!

Exciting! Scott, Judi, and Jay all join me to talk about getting into the ISTE van, and heading to Philly this week for the ISTE Conference. The big story at ISTE definitely seems like it will be iPads and tablets. We discuss the controversy over the ISTE Keynote, which has always been a point of contention for some of the attendees of the conference. We talk about many of the awesome, innovative educators to keep an eye out for, such as (but definitely not limited to):

Kevin Honeycutt
Scott McLeod
Kathy Schrock
Joyce Valenza
Angela Meiers
Sylvia Martinez
Gary Stager
Steve Dembo
David Jakes

We’re very excited to be engaging with many of you- we hope we can learn something from you. See you there!

Show Host: Daniel Rezac

Show guests: Scott Meech, Judi Epcke, and Jay D. Blackman

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The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.

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Mobile Reach #6 – iPod Classroom Management Tips

Mobile Reach Logo

In this episode, Chad & Tammy interview Junior High School Social Studies teacher David Freeburg regarding how he uses iPod Touch devices in his classroom with students.  We cover a handful of things to think about, tricks and tips.  We also share some brief Android tablet news and review some apps that we’ve been playing with.

Show Host: Chad Kafka (@chadkafka)

Co-Host: Tammy Lind(@TamL17)

Special guest: David Freeburg (@whizbang)

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The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.

Call us on our comment line!

If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.


Join EdReach at ISTE 2011!

It’s only a few days away, but the EdReach team will be at ISTE (that’s the International Society for Technology in Education- for your newbies) in Philadelphia, PA. The conference starts Sunday, June 26th and runs until Wednesday, the 29th. We’ll be starting out on Saturday, though, at EdubloggerCon, which is a fabulous “unconference” hosted  by Steve Hargadon. EdReach will be live blogging, taking pictures, and catching up with educators from all around the world. Although many of the sessions and workshops will be stellar, ISTE offers all sorts of opportunities to connect with educators. I find that the Blogger’s Cafe is my favorite place to hang around, and you may very well see us trying out our new Skype webinar tool, or recording material for podcasts later in the week.

I’m going to try to be the best listener I can this year. The best thing about ISTE, is the ability to hear the stories from some of the most innovative educators in the world. Most of the time, I hear these stories in the hallways after a session, at lunch time, at dinner time, and anytime in-between. Like many of our students- I don’t always learn best in the traditional “spaces.”

Some questions that I will be asking is:

What’s the most exciting thing you did with students in the past year, and what platforms and tools were most useful to you?

It’s a pretty good guess we’re going to hear a lot about iPads and tablets, but I sure hope there’s more. As our mission is Taking Education Forward, we feel it’s our duty to be there. We hope to see you there!

Image Credit: ISTE


I let my students grade me.

At the end of the year I ask my students to complete a course evaluation. They typically enjoy this because I tell them that this is their opportunity to give me a grade for my performance as a teacher. I take this survey seriously and try to make adjustments the following year based on the feedback that I get. In typical high school fashion some students leave suggestions that are completely ridiculous (“let us mess around more”), impossible (“let’s have class outside all the time”), and just plain funny (“get rid of all your plants and animals”). Others, are helpful.

Of all the questions that I ask, these are the ones that I pay most attention to:

  • What was your overall experience in class this year?
  • Did you have to think in order to do well in this class?
  • Did Mr. Sowash teach using a variety of different methods?

This year I also added a question asking students to describe my class using one word. There were lots of creative responses! You can see the results in the word-cloud in the infographic below (click to enlarge).


2011 Course Evaluation Infographic

Course evaluations are a humbling yet informative exercise. Teachers spend an entire year grading their students, it seems appropriate that at least one time during the year, the students should have the opportunity to grade their teachers. Accountability can be painful, but it is also a stimulus for growth.

The usefulness of these evaluations is expended when they are used annually. Last year I gave the same evaluation. As I compare the results year to year I can see areas of strength and weakness. I posted my evaluation from 2010 on my personal blog. There are some remarkable similarities!

If you would like to try your own class evaluation, here are a few tools to get you started:

  • Here is the template for my evaluation which was created using Google Docs Spreadsheet. The associated form can be accessed via URL, embedded in a class page, or emailed out.
  • There are several neat wordcloud generators on the web. Wordle and Tagul are two that I have used.